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Cordwainer Smith was the pen name of Doctor Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger: Science Fiction writer, poet, and psychological warfare expert. He was a man of the world, but had particular ties to China and the Far East; his godfather was Sun Yat-sen, and he was a confidant of Chiang Kai-shek.

Most of his Speculative Fiction work describes the future history of the Instrumentality of Mankind, which was richly described but left a lot to the reader's imagination. Influenced by Chinese short stories, Mr. Smith's books cannot be mistaken for anyone else's work.


Cordwainer Smith had an affinity for:

  • Author Appeal (Meow)
  • Author Existence Failure (See Noodle Incident, below)
  • Blessed with Suck ("Scanners Live in Vain")
  • Body Double: In Norstrilia, Rod gets ten body doubles when he arrives on Earth. Eleanor is surgically modified to look like him, and nine robot doubles are also sent out.
  • Brown Note ("The Fife of Bodhidharma", "No, No, Not Rogov!")
  • Catgirl (literally)
    • As well as dog girls, snake girls, buffalo girls....
    • What's particularly notable about this example is that C'Mell may have been the first cat girl in any medium, arriving in 1962.
  • Crystal Spires and Togas. Subverted in that the Instrumentality deliberately allow the people to go back to a more retrograde way of life, with their approval.
  • Days of Future Past (as noted)
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Most of his stories are Christian allegories, but it is subtle and many will miss it.
    • "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell" was written during the peak of the civil rights movement.
    • A number of his stories, including the aforementioned "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell", were also inspired by Chinese literature.
  • Defector From Decadence: The Instrumentality forces this on civilization.
  • Doomy Dooms of Doom: In Norstrilia, Rod is the heir to the Station of Doom. It was named back when it was actually dangerous.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The reason Planoform ships require pinlighting teams in "The Game of Rat and Dragon".
  • Electric Instant Gratification: for recreation and pain relief.
  • The Empire: Several.
  • The Federation: The Instrumentality functions as a kind of variant on this, presumably.
  • A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted: Norstrilia starts with Rod making enough money to literally buy everything on Earth; by the end of the book, he's given away almost all of it (though he keeps enough to be rich).
  • Foregone Conclusion: Norstrilia, for example, tells you exactly how everything's going to turn out in the prologue.
  • Future Imperfect: The great Terran metropolis of Meeya Meefla (which is what you get when you try to pronounce "MIAMI FLA." phonetically).
  • Gender Bender: Eleanor in Norstrilia.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language
  • I Choose to Stay: At the end of Norstrilia, Eleanor decides she likes being Rod and stays on Earth in his body.
  • Interspecies Romance: In The Game Of Rat And Dragon, humans and cats must telepathically link to fight off aliens that Mind Rape humans traveling through deep space. The protagonist finds he enjoys being linked with his feline partner a little too much and the story ends with him repeatedly reminding himself "She's a cat!"
  • It's Raining Men
  • Jeanne D Archetype: D'joan in "The Dead Lady of Clown Town."
  • Magic Music ("The Fife of Bodhidharma", which doesn't take place in the Instrumentality of Mankind universe.)
  • Mind Screw: Frequently.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: The Apicians in "From Gustible's Planet" have extremely Earth-like biochemistry; this is specifically called out as unusual.
  • Noodle Incident: many major events, both historical and personal, are alluded to but never specifically described in-story. Smith apparently had plans for more stories, but he died before he could write them.
  • One-Gender Race: The Arachosians in "The Crime and Glory of Commander Sudzal".
  • One Product Planet: Norstrilia, which has the monopoly on the imortallity drug Stroon. In addition, there's Viola Siderea (an Underworld) and Shayol (see below).
  • Penal Colony: Shayol, of the Body Horror kind.
  • Punctuation Shaker
  • Population Control: Norstrilia practices population control by way of a Rite of Passage: you go into a room, are examined by a panel, and either come out a full citizen or are given a painless death.
  • Rip Van Winkle: "Mark Elf" and "The Queen of the Afternoon" are about three German sisters from 1945 who end up in the future.
  • Stable Time Loop: What ends up becoming known as "The Crime And The Glory of Commander Suzdal".
  • Standard Sci Fi History: Plays the trope straight, but then the Instrumentality appears to have reached its Apex, it stays stuck in an Interregnum of stagnation until it decides to re-diversify humanity.
  • Superweapon Surprise ("Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons". Everybody knows that the planet of Norstrilia has a secret weapon. What it is, nobody ever lives to tell.)
  • To Serve Man: Inverted in "From Gustible's Planet".
  • Unusual User Interface (genetically altered animals, a giant scrying dish and many more)
  • Uplifted Animal: The underpeople.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: The Instrumentality feel it does.
  • What Do You Mean It Wasn't Written On Drugs? This does not impede the quality of the writing.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Most, if not all, of the stories, concerning the underpeople.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Subverted. When a certain planet is found to have the components to make one immortal, the opportunity is there, although the Instrumentality seems to settle for 400 years (there is a dismissive reference to people who try to live longer than that).
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